Used cooking oil from Orlando restaurants powers passenger airplanes

Sustainable jet fuel reduces carbon emission by as much as 50%

Used cooking oil collected from restaurants near Orlando-area attractions is being collected and converted into a fuel that can help fly the tourists who visit there.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Used cooking oil collected from restaurants near Orlando-area attractions is being collected and converted into a fuel that can help fly the tourists who visit there.

“We say we’re saving the world one drop of used oil at a time,” Dave Kimball said.

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Kimball is the chief executive officer of Mahoney Environmental, which is one company collecting the used cooking oil in the Orlando area.

He said restaurants used to pay companies to get rid of their spent cooking oil. Now, he said his company is paying the restaurants for the opportunity.

News 6 rode along with one of Mahoney’s technicians, Alex Rivero, near the Orlando’s attractions area.

He said his workday usually begins before the sun comes up to ensure he is done by the time for the lunch rush. He said he travels to approximately 20 restaurants, where he vacuums about 80 gallons of used cooking oil out of a custom outlet installed outside of the restaurants.

He does this five days a week.

“Miami will process the oil, which means we will take out all solids, we will do the separation,” Kimball said. “We end up with a pure oil, and then that oil will be shipped to another location to turn into renewable diesel or sustainable jet fuel.”

The final step of that process is performed by Mahoney’s parent company, Neste.

Alex Rivero, a technician for Mahoney Environmental, gets ready to remove used cooking oil from an Orlando area restaurant to be turned into sustainable aviation fuel. (Copyright 2022 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

According to studies, sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF, burns approximately 20-50% cleaner than jet fuel refined from petroleum – sometimes even cleaner than that.

Kimball said it can be used in any existing jet.

The downside to SAF is the cost it takes to convert the oil to fuel.

Neste estimated the cost to be two-to-three times higher than refining traditional jet fuel, while other studies indicate it could be higher.

“I don’t think the issue, in the long run, is going to be the cost,” Kimball said. “I think the issue is going to be how can we produce enough of it.”

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Neste’s fuel is already being used at big airports, like Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

A spokesman for Orlando International Airport told News 6 workers there not only do not use it, but they do not plan to, either.

“Our fueling system is not like many airports where they have trucks bring fuel to specific airlines and airplanes,” OIA spokesman Rod Johnson said. “We have a hydrant system, where all the airlines share the fuel supply, so it is not as practical for one airline to use recycled fuel because all of the others would also have to agree to use such a fuel supply.”

News 6 checked with Melbourne Orlando International Airport, Daytona Beach International Airport and Orlando-Sanford International Airport.

None of them use SAF, either.

Neste spokesman Theodore Rolfvondenbaumen said his company already supplies SAF to San Francisco International Airport, which has a similar system to Orlando International Airport.

He also said the fuel is a blend that does not require agreements from airlines.

“Wherever you have French fries, you have used cooking oil,” Dr. Puneet Dwivedi said.

Dwivedi is an associate professor at the University of Georgia, and he has published studies on the production and use of sustainable jet fuel.

“Used cooking oil has all the fatty acids that can be easily converted into biodiesel or sustainable aviation fuel nowadays,” he said. “It depends upon just what is the demand or who is giving what type of money, but the technology is there, and it’s a very proven technology.”

He said demand is growing.

In the Atlanta area, for example, Dwivedi said it is very difficult to get a hold of used cooking oil because most of that is going to make diesel.

“The airlines are behind it,” he said. “That is why there is so much action on sustainable aviation fuel not only with airlines in this country, but also all over the world.”

Kimball said his company is also feeling the increase demand.

He said is company is currently scouting out locations to build a new facility in the Orlando area.


About the Author:

Erik Sandoval joined the News 6 team as a reporter in May 2013 and became an Investigator in 2020. During his time at News 6, Erik has covered several major stories, including the 2016 Presidential campaign. He was also one of the first reporters live on the air at the Pulse Nightclub shooting.